Friday, May 30, 2008

Mentors

Predictably, the people most instrumental to our success at Kendara were a part of the process from the beginning until we sold.

Our lawyer, Scott Dettmer explained all the elements of structuring companies, and more importantly, set up our fund raising process and coached us through it. He advised us to resist talking to the VCs who had sought us out and wanted to have early conversations about what we were doing. Instead he encouraged us to wait until we were solid with what we were doing and our pitch, and then to line up as many meetings with the top tier VCs as we could manage. He set up many of these meetings himself. When we were actually having these conversations. We would meet in the morning and he would tell us both what the VCs would ask, like "how much are you looking for", and "whats your valuation". And how to answer, "$5 million" and "we don't know". The conversations went exactly how he said they would, and I give him much of the credit for our handling them well.

Mike Sheridan was our 5th board, "neutral", board member. Mike was remarkable for being personal friends with us and Jon Feiber of MDV so neutral is not really the right word. Conversations with Mike calmed the giant emotional waves that characterize that experience for me. Most of what I remember of his advice was that it was 'ok', we were doing 'fine', what we were experiencing was 'normal'. We trusted him alot. We knew he wouldn't be afraid to tell us we were screwing up, and that he knew enough about the scene to know. So this was great. I'll always be grateful.

MDV gave us Donna Novitsky as an interim VP of marketing. A number of people passing thru gave us marketing advice, but we didn't know how to assimilate it. Donna, met with us once or twice a week and was able to drive. Our meetings had action items, and since she was coming back, that meant something. She also had access to the MDV address book. When we were going thru our ICard phase many of these marketing meetings resulted in wild requirements like, "we need to talk to AAA, we need to talk to AARP, we need to talk to VISA". Today I hear startups say stuff like that, and I roll my eyes. Then, Donna would say, "ok, I'll take that" and we would get contact info mailed to us in a few days. Really, the revolution of the moment is that we can launch large scale successful businesses without engaging massive companies. If your plan involves selling or partnering with public companies, get a good VC.


When we got funding our VCs helped us by sending us a stream of people who had experience running, growing or selling businesses. Part of this was probably their way of playing the dating game as they had in mind that we would need a CEO. The conversations were often interesting. We spent an hour with Geoffrey Moore where he explained his way of breaking down problems, and in real time we tried to apply his advice to our work. I don't remember any of the other names that came thru. Some were remarkable, and I saw them on the cover of wired, but with all the craziness it was hard process and put into effect the advice of people like this. Basically, once we had money, we were too busy and stressed running to really adjust our course radically.

Prefunding this kind of advice was more useful. Arthur Van Hoff talked with us a bit about what we were doing, and what areas he thought would be big. At the time he was worth about a billion $ on paper, and Pavni and I were struggling a bit to define exactly what we were doing, so his thoughts were valuable. His support also affirmed our credibility with a number of VCs, and probably got us the conversation with Vinod Khosla. Another way of looking at this is we had one major course correction in the years post funding when I presented the iCard idea and Jon Feiber said, "great work, don't do it again". In the four months prefunding we had a fairly major change of direction every month or so. So, we were definitely more open to ideas then.

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